From Fashion to Feed the Children: A Conversation with Silvia Andena

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Editor’s Note: We continue our series of posts highlighting some of the people who make up the Feed the Children team. Here is an interview with Silvia Andena, Country Director for Feed the Children Tanzania. Other blogs in this series can be found herehere and here.

How did you first get into this work? Why focus on children specifically?

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Silvia Andena

My first work experience was in the fashion sector, coming from Milan in Italy. That kind of work is a very easy road to take, and many people aspire to it, but I always had the idea to do something that would help other people. This first work experience helped me understand that desire even better, and I realized clearly that fashion was not the right sector for me!

With the support of my family, I decided to enroll in a Master’s in International Relations degree program in London, UK. That seemed to be the best way to shift towards working in the international sector.

I’ve always had a passion for traveling and living in different countries, and my idea was immediately to aim for Africa. I wanted to live there and understand the culture before finding the best way to be of help. It took me some years to get here, but finally I was able to make it!

The choice of children came naturally—they are the nicest thing on earth. But they are also fragile, and adults have a duty to help them protect themselves by empowering their lives. Even now, talking to children is one of my favorite things to do. I learn a lot from them about life and the best ways to help them.

Recently I have even decided to study children’s rights, in order to have more tools to help them. Working in this sector is not an easy thing, and without the right instruments and skills, you can’t have nearly as much positive impact.

What motivates you in your work? Is there a person, story or statistic that gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you going?

People keep telling me that I am a good person for what I do. I feel I am actually a bit selfish. When you can do something to help others, you are the one benefiting the most from it. The smiles and warmth of people can make you feel alive, like you’re in the right place.

There is a sentence that I always try to remember in my work and my life from Terence, the Roman playwright: “I am a human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.”

That is what motivates me—my interest in other people, and spending my life doing something worthwhile for them. We all have a duty to help people in difficulty. Each of us, in our own lives, can find a small way to accomplish this.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing children and families in Tanzania, and how does Feed the Children address those challenges? 

Access to proper food, clean water and educational tools are the biggest challenges for children and their families. By supporting schools and communities through our four pillars, we can give children a proper education, which is their right. Also, by working to empower schools and communities, we can help solving other big problems present in Tanzania such as early pregnancies, child marriage and youth delinquency.

Is there a recent story you can share about the work being done in Tanzania on behalf of children?

We recently participated in the celebration of the Day of the African Child in one of our beneficiary schools. On that occasion children from other nearby schools participated, and Feed the Children provided all of them with juices and snacks. The children were able to dance and sing in front of adults and express their own views about the problems they have to face in their everyday life as African children. It was amazing to see small children expressing their thoughts with such energy, and then they all listened carefully during our speech about children’s right to education, particularly girls’ rights. I see this little event as a sign that this country might really see change happening. Children are our future!

What’s one misconception people in the United States might have about Tanzania? What would you want us to know about this country? 

FEED03Tanzania is not Africa; it is part of it. There are things Tanzanians share with other African populations, and things that are unique to them, such as their language and how it defines them as a culture and an independent nation. In Tanzania, the first language is not English; it is Kiswahili. People of different tribes, languages, and religions have been united under a language and a name. Nowadays, compared to other nearby countries, Tanzania is a peaceful one, where different people share their lives together without any conflict.

The general attitude of Tanzanian people is one of kindness and peace. This population has taught me what really means to be humble and patient. When you smile at them in the street they do not think you are weird or wanting something from them—they simply smile back.